Words and images by Lauren Grose
While his midday beer slowly vanished from a sweating glass and his multiple cigarettes turned to ash, Jared Mata described how he initially booked a ticket to the Port of Spain, assuming he would end up in Europe. If it had not been for his uncle, Maurice Mata, pointing out the misstep, Mata would have found himself in the capital of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago—a $700 mistake that would have left him 4,217 miles from his desired location.
“I almost didn’t make it [to Spain] at all,” Mata said.
The then 19-year-old thought a vacation in Spain would be a nice farewell to civilian life. He wanted a last hurrah before joining the United States Marine Corps.
“This wasn’t my plan. I planned to stay here for a bit, get drunk, and see more of Europe,” said Mata, who just went on his fourth year living in Valencia.
Strolling down Calle Salamanca with his newly rescued white Podenco, Jango, a Spanish hunting dog, Mata now blends in with la gente of Valencia despite the fact he still does not speak fluent Spanish or feel 100 percent comfortable with the lifestyle. The locals know him, and he knows the locals largely because he spends the majority of his time running one of the most popular bars in Zona Canóvas, an area best known for its swanky street-side patios, shopping and nightlife.
Like many young people traveling abroad, Mata did his fair share of partying before his uncle offered him a partnership at Portland Ale House.
Originally from Salem, Oregon, Mata’s uncle, whom he refers to as ‘Mauri,’ opened Portland when he discovered he was not able to find suitable locally brewed beer in Spain. The materials to be used to renovate his ale house, including a wooden bar top from Oregon, sat in giant overseas shipping containers before Mauri had a place for his business. He thought about setting up shop in Alicante, a Mediterranean port city south of Valencia, but as soon as he visited Valencia and saw the vacant building in Zona Canóvas, he knew it was the perfect location.
Boldness and entrepreneurial spirit seem to run in the family. Mata’s grandfather, who was originally from Córdoba, Spain, chased the American dream, moving to Mill City, Oregon, where he successfully flipped houses. Mata, who never signed his final paperwork with the Marine Corps, called his boss to quit his barista job at Starbucks, returned to Oregon to pack his things and moved to Spain. He has not been back since. Instead, he dove head-first into the country his grandfather left so many years ago.
Initially, Mata found it hard to adjust to the Spanish schedule and admitted he still finds it difficult to nap in the middle of the day. He also discovered the hard way that party venues in Spain are not referred to as ‘clubs’ but as ‘discotecas;’ one of his first nights out in Spain, Mata’s taxi driver took him to a brothel instead of a bar where he could drink and dance the night away.
As a young adult, finding a balance in a country that throws endless parties was a challenge at first.
“It was very easy to go out and have 5 or 6 pints a night,” Mata said.
But since he began taking on responsibilities at Portland, his life has settled down.
“I went through that phase already … drinking all the time. It definitely gets old when you’re in the business,” Mata said, noting that he limits himself to enjoying a few pints a night if he does go out.
According to Mata, working 3-4 hours brewing with a small, seven-barrel system can get rough in the Spanish heat, especially when he has to go into Portland later in the day to manage, bartend, and even cook when they are short-staffed. However, the nuances of brewing and hard work of partially owning a business are worth it for him.
“Our beers are made by hand,” said Mata. “There is no machinery, and its all about the charm. Plus, me and my uncle created a place that we would want to hang out. … If you come here alone, you aren’t going to be alone the whole night.”
Regulars from the United States, England, Scotland and Spain can attest that Mata and Portland are doing something right.
“The warm welcome you got at the bar every time you went made me go back—almost like having a family away from home,” said Stuart Atkinson, an embryonic cell researcher from Lanark, Scotland.
Atkinson has been a regular at Portland for the five years he has lived in Valencia, enjoying the pub-style quiz nights, holiday-themed parties and homemade beers on tap.
During those five years Atkinson also has befriended Mata, who he said has shown personal growth through his interest in micro-brewing and taking on more responsibility in managing Portland.
At 23, Mata is satisfied with keeping the bar full of patrons and keeping those patrons happy. But co-owning Portland Ale House might simply be a precursor for his future endeavors.
“I don’t know if I want Ferraris or what. Who knows, I might pick up and try out my luck somewhere else in eight years,” Mata said. “As the saying goes, home to me is wherever I lay down my hat, and at the moment that happens to be Valencia and Portland.”